NEW! CalculatedRisk Newsletter on Real Estate (Ad Free) Read it here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Dab of Color: Transportation

by Calculated Risk on 2/08/2011 06:45:00 PM

After my "D-List Data" post, I've received several requests to try to create a list of economic data by priority. I'm working on it, in the meantime, here is some more data for D-List.

I follow three measures of transportation: rail traffic, trucking and a diesel fuel index (Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index). I also occasionally review press releases for UPS and FedEx for comments on the economy and forecasts.

This is not primary data, but it is sometimes helpful in confirming other data. As an example, last year I was looking for a mid-year / 2nd half slowdown, and the transportation data was useful in confirming the slowdown was happening.

These indicators mostly improved towards the end of the year, confirming the brighter outlook.

The January rail traffic report released today by the Association of American Railroads suggests the economy expanded further in January. The January Pulse of Commerce Index (PCI) will be released tomorrow morning at 9 AM ET.

The PCI is also somewhat correlated to Industrial Production (IP) from the Federal Reserve (although the relationship is a bit noisy). So the release tomorrow will give us a hint on January IP to be released on Wednesday Feb 16th.

Finally, rail traffic is an example of excess capacity in the economy. The railroad companies are always investing in maintenance and repairs, but investment in new equipment will probably not pick up significantly until traffic starts to approach the levels seen in 2006 – the peak year (still a long ways to go).

Here is the graph gallery for transportation.